|Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Sheku Kanneh-Mason & the CBSO|
Monday, 23 November 2020
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (conductor)
Recorded 10 November 2020
(Video streamed online from 19 November 2020, available until 18 December 2020 here)
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957): Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22 No. 4, Lemminkäinen's Return
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934): Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957): Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22 No. 2, The Swan of Tuonela
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
'With expectant energy, Gražinytė-Tyla drove the players in rippling runs and the spiky melody, with bright brass pointing the joyful build to its glorious conclusion'.
'Kanneh-Mason ... commanded attention with his emphatic purity of tone from the opening chords'.
'Gražinytė-Tyla kept the orchestra on their toes as Kanneh-Mason skittered through with a deft touch'.
'The cor anglais (beautifully played with warmth and expression by Rachael Pankhurst) was the star here'.
'Gražinytė-Tyla elicited razor sharp ensemble here in the rapid runs and syncopations, rising to a joyous conclusion'.
Read my full review on Bachtrack here.
Thursday, 12 November 2020
Violinist Kinga Ujszászi and harpsichordist Tom Foster have been exploring the riches of an amazing archive of around 1750 works from the late 17th and early 18th centuries that has miraculously survived all that time in Dresden and is now fully digitised and freely available online. Known as ‘Schrank II’ after the cabinet in which it was stored, it gives the name to their new recording, ‘Cabinet of Wonders’ - also tantalisingly ‘Volume 1’, promising more to come. The composers - Johann Vilsmayr (1663-1722), Gasparo Visconti (1683-1731) and Johann Schreivogel (fl.1707-1749) - will no doubt be unfamiliar, but the music chosen here certainly deserves the title. Vilsmayr’s Partita in E flat major which opens the disc is remarkable, not least for the extreme ‘scordatura’ - where the strings are unusually tuned to create unusual sonorities and harmonic possibilities. The opening Prelude is arresting, with a ghostly sound initially from the violin, leading into a virtuosic Presto with beautifully sweet double-stopping here from Ujszászi. There are two lyrical Arias, the second of which is particularly mournful, then a fabulous Passacaglia is kicked off emphatically by Foster here, with Ujszászi’s rasping unison double-stops (courtesy of that scordatura) reminiscent of the hurdy-gurdy. After a brief Menuett, the Finale is a real improvisatory display, with clever echo effects, and Ujszászi really takes flight here. We then have two Sonatas by Visconti, who was a pupil of Corelli’s. The C minor Sonata is full of complex embellishments, with some oddly unexpected turns in the melodic line. The central movement has lots of stop-start dramatic gestures, whilst the final movement is lilting and graceful, with some unusual chromatic slides in the melody. The F major Sonata has a sweetly straightforward opening movement, and a lightly dancing Allegro to follow. The otherwise delightful Adagio has some slightly odd moments harmonically, but the Finale is captivating - a set of variations on a courtly minuet, with double-stopping mimicking hunting horns. Here again, both Ujszászi and Foster enjoy the opportunity to display their virtuosic command to the full. The three Sonatas here from Swiss-born Schreivogel are perhaps the most polished compositions, with some beautifully lyrical lines for the violin. The crying suspensions in the E minor Sonata’s opening movement, and the melancholic slow movements of the D minor Sonata, with sweet trills and embellishments, stand out in particular. The final Sonata here, the only work not from the ‘cabinet’, is a later work from Schreivogel, demonstrating how the composer’s style developed. Its lyrically operatic central movement is flanked by two fast showpieces, and in the lilting final movement, Ujszászi’s virtuosic string crossing and rapid finger work is highly impressive and a delight to listen to. On the basis of this stunning offering from the Cabinet of Wonders, roll on volume 2!Moving forward a couple of centuries, we enter the world of the 19th century salon for a completely different but equally fascinating collection from Vaughan Jones (violin) and Marcus Price (piano), in ‘History of the Salon — Morceaux caractéristiques (1823-1913)’. Once again, most of the composers here (fourteen in all) will be unfamiliar, apart from one or two. And inevitably, particularly with this genre of essentially pleasing and melodic miniatures, some stand out more than others. So the virtuosic energy and joyful rhythms of the two Mazurkas from Aleksander Zarzycki (1834-1895), and the heart-on-sleeve operatic sentimentality of Alfredo d’Ambrosio’s (1871-1914) Aria perhaps stand out more than, say, the admittedly sweet melody of the otherwise unremarkable Méditation by Joachim Raff (1822-1882), and the pleasing nostalgia but lack of real emotional depth of the Valse Triste from Frank von Vecsey (1893-1935) (the final dedicatee of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, which he first performed aged 13). But when performed with such commitment and virtuosic flair, as is the case here, even the lightest of offerings is a delight to listen to. There are a couple of more familiar composers here - there’s a sweet operatic Cantibile e Valzer from Paganini (1782-1840), and a lilting Barcarole with a swirling central section from Louis Spohr (1784-1859). And occasionally, the piano accompaniments rise out of the background, such as when imitating the guitar in Moritz Moszkowski’s (1854-1925) Guitarre, and in Jones’ own beautifully atmospheric arrangement of Granados’ (1867-1916) Oriental from his 12 Danzas españolas. Jones’ tone is always sweet, but he avoids sugar overload with lightness of touch and effortless virtuosity when required, such as in Franz Schubert’s (1808-1878) (not that one - a tough break to be a composer with the same name as one of the greatest composers of the time, if not ever, so he became known as ‘François’ Schubert) popular encore piece, L’abeille (The Bee). Listening to the whole collection in one go, there will inevitably be a few casualties in terms of grabbing your attention, but in isolation, each piece is a delight in its own right, affectionately performed here by Jones and Price.Chicago born pianist Steven Graff has performed and recorded many piano works by fellow Chicago composer John Carbon (b.1951), who I have to say was new to me. On his latest recording, he plays three sets of pieces, the longest, ‘Astro Dogs: 12 Zodiacal Pieces’ giving the disc its title. Before that come two shorter sets, the first of which, Madeleines, inspired by a trip to France with his sister when he was a student. As the name would suggest, these five short pieces are atmospheric, evoking memories and moods. There is a wistful improvisatory, almost Chopinesque feel to the opening ‘Mémoire triste dans un café’, and a darker, more funereal nostalgia in ‘François et ses yeux dangereux’, remembering the death of a boy they had met in Paris. The final piece, ‘Madeleine déteste les devoirs’, on the other hand, has a driving rhythm, with disobediently boisterous hints at children’s songs.
Monday, 9 November 2020
Friday 6 November 2020, 8pm SGT
(available until 20 November 2020)
Richard Strauss (1864-1949): Metamorphosen, for 23 strings
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Serenade No. 10 in B flat major, K361 'Gran Partita'
'There was a remarkable tightness of ensemble throughout, despite the extra distance between players'.
'A warm, accomplished performance, just needing a notch or two more on the anguish dial'.
'The Allegro was bright and brisk, with sharp articulation in the development’s running scales, particularly from the bassoons'.
'The central Allegretto in the Romanze ... had sprightly energy, with spiky basset horns'.
'The Rondo finale (was) taken at a healthily brisk tempo. The episodes had great spirit, with close observance of the dynamics, and the movement built to a positively joyful finish'.
Read my full review on Bachtrack here.
Saturday, 31 October 2020
A chilling operatic tale from Frances-Hoad as centrepiece of Sampson & Middleton's impressive contribution to the Oxford Lieder Festival
|Carolyn Sampson & Joseph Middleton|
(screenshot from online stream)
Joseph Middleton (piano)
7.30pm, Tuesday 13 October, 2020
(reviewed from online stream 31 October 2020)
Holywell Music Room, Oxford
Late to the party, I finally caught up today on Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton’s contribution to this year’s Oxford Lieder Festival online, and I am so glad I did - at the last minute, as the concerts are still available until tomorrow evening, so if you’re quick you can still catch this and the rest of the festival’s concerts.
The theme of the festival was Connections Across Time, and the centrepiece of tonight’s programme was the world premiere of the festival’s Associate Conductor, Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s song cycle, written especially for Carolyn and Joseph, with a text by Sophie Rashbrook, Six Songs of Melmoth.
Frances-Hoad’s happenstance inspiration for the cycle began when she picked up a copy of Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent at a lending library at Bedford station, which led her to read Perry’s other novels, including Melmoth. This book in turn took inspiration from a much earlier work, Charles Maturin’s sprawling gothic tale, Melmoth the Wanderer, from 1820. The original involves Melmoth making a Faustian pact, taking 150 extra years of life in exchange for ensuring that he can convince someone else to agree to take his place, otherwise facing eternity burning in hell. So Melmoth roams through history, searching for someone to pass his curse onto. In Perry’s version, Melmoth is a woman, who seduces her victims as she crosses the centuries. Sophie Rashbrook took both versions as the starting point for her text, and across the six songs of the cycle, she takes the gender fluid Melmoth through time, and ultimately right into the present, the very singer in the concert hall presenting the final temptation to the audience to consent to join her.
|Carolyn Sampson & Joseph Middleton|
(screenshot from online stream)
They began their programme with a selection of five Schubert songs, and communication across the spiritual realm featured significantly here, from the heart rending lay dark Schwestergruss to the prayerful Litanei auf des Fest Allerseelen, and finally heavenly peace in Elysium. Again, Sampson shifts from mood to mood, with a desperate, ghostly breeze running through Schwestergruss, contrasting with sheer delight in her bright voice in Die Sterne, attaining bliss at its conclusion. Gott in Frühlinge had a light freshness, whereas her long, lyrical lines in Litanei and the final extended ewig in Elysium showed off Sampson’s impressive breath control. Middleton matched the moods, with warm yet solemn tone in Litanei, and rippling accompaniment building to the triumphant conclusion of Elysium.
(screenshot from online stream)
Poldowski was in fact the pseudonym of Belgian-born composer Irène Régine Wieniawska, daughter of violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski, and she lived most of her life in London. She particularly loved the poetry of Paul Verlaine, and the five songs presented here were all settings of his verse. In Cythère, Middleton’s dancing accompaniment underpinned a playfully flighty delivery by Sampson of the brief romantic encounter, and En Sourdine was all dreamy calmness apart from a muted, brief ecstatic outburst. Sampson’s Colombine was mischievous and balletically light, whereas L’heure Exquise had a beautifully romantic, liquid simplicity. Middleton had great fun conjouring up the strumming textures in Mandoline, disappearing away ‘in the shivering breeze’ with a light flourish.
They completed their programme with Walton’s Three Façade Settings, less well-known than the ‘entertainment’ piece with spoken voice, Façade. Daphne has a folk-like melody, and is mainly straightforwardly narrative, with hints of a rippling river in the piano part, and a brief solo voice moment at the climax as Daphne transforms into a tree. Through gilded trellises plays with lilting Spanish rhythms, with a stop-start pattern hinting at brief sultry glimpses through the trellises, whilst Old Sir Faulk (which appears in Façade) closes the group with its foxtrot rhythm and jazzy humour. Sampson and Middleton delivered the set with style and a light touch, bringing their hugely varied and challenging programme to an end.
(screenshot from online stream)
Gott im Frühlinge
Litanei auf des Fest Allerseelen
Cheryl Frances-Hoad (b.1980)
Six Songs of Melmoth
1.The painting (Narrator) 1816
2. Shipwreck gossip (Old Biddy Brannington) 1816
3. Elinora’s letter (some salt-water damage to the text) 1516
4. City of Song-Ghosts (Narrator reprise)
6. Melmoth’s Serenade
Erik Satie (1866-1925)
Gymnopédie No. 1
Je te veux
William Walton (1902-1983)
Three Façade Settings
2. Through Gilded Trellises
3. Old Sir Faulk
Friday, 23 October 2020
|Stephen Hough, Mark Wigglesworth & the BSO|
© Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Stephen Hough (piano)
Mark Wigglesworth (conductor)
Wednesday 21 October, 7.30pm
(reviewed from BSO@Home online stream)
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): Symphony No. 99 in E flat major
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83
'Playfulness continued into the Menuet and Trio, taken at a steady pace, but full of fun and energy. That energy then broke free in the skittish Finale'.
'The woodwind players in particular demonstrated impressive articulation, while string ensemble was once again tight, with the fugal passages given great intensity and bite'.
Hough certainly delivered the requisite weight, yet never at the expense of clarity of articulation, or warmth of interpretation.
'Full orchestral tuttis again had power and particularly rich brass, but almost no detail was missed by Wigglesworth'.
Read my full review on Bachtrack here.
Monday, 12 October 2020
For obvious reasons, there will sadly be no live concerts to attend in this year’s Brighton Early Music Festival. However, undeterred, BREMF are presenting a series of events online instead.
|Joglaresa (credit: Andrew Mason)|
Thursday, 8 October 2020
French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet released his set of complete Piano Sonatas by Beethoven (1770-1827) back in 2017, and it still remains the go to edition for me. So it’s great to see him now turn his attention to the five Piano Concertos. Spread across a three-disc set, he throws in a performance of the Quintet for Piano and Winds, for which he is joined by players from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, who play alongside him in the concertos. Beethoven’s five concertos span well over twenty years of his career, and sketches exist at either end of concertos from as early as 1783 and as late as 1815. Here the five completed concertos are placed in order of their composition, so No. 2 in B flat major comes first, as it was actually composed back in 1787, before No. 1 in C major (1795). No. 2 is clearly Mozartian in many ways, but already here we have Beethoven’s stamp on the genre, with dramatic contrast of emphatic statements followed by delicate responses in the slow movement, and constant playing with the sense of downbeat and upbeat in the joyful Rondo. No. 1 has the same sense of rhythmic confusion in its Rondo too, and here Beethoven makes wonderful use of the clarinet in conversation with the piano in the slow movement. There is sprightly energy from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra throughout, and Bavouzet positively fizzes in the rippling runs, and attacks the finales with a great sense of fun. On the other hand, his delicacy of touch in the slow movements is delightful, and this comes to the fore again in No. 3 in C minor. The Swedish wind players are also prominent here, and their conversational exchanges with Bavouzet are subtle and poised. In the faster movements, Bavouzet’s tempi are always brisk, but never feel rushed, his fast runs always fluid and effortless. No. 4 in G major moves things onto another level, with a much broader sense of architecture, from its prayerful opening, right through to the galloping finale. Again, the slow movement is conversational, this time between just strings and the piano, with Bavouzet and the Swedish players creating a moment of intimacy amidst the grandeur of the outer movements. No. 5 in E flat major (the ‘Emperor’, although the origin of this nickname is unclear – it definitely wasn't specifically linked to Napoleon, as famously the Eroica Symphony was initially) is again on a grand scale, and there is a real sense of opening out here, with more expansive playing from both Bavouzet and the orchestra. The outer movements have great panache, particularly in the joyfully ebullient finale. The central slow movement is understated, and Bavouzet avoids over-sentimentalising proceedings – although I could have tolerated a little more indulgence here. But this is a minor point of taste – overall, this is an impressive collection, and I’ll definitely be returning to this frequently, alongside Bavouzet’s Sonata set. The bonus Quintet is a treat – a young work from Beethoven, giving greater prominence to the clarinet than to the other wind instruments (oboe, bassoon and horn), but packed full of joyful melodic material. The Swedish players here play alongside Bavouzet with great style, creating a pleasing palate-cleanser to round off the three-disc set.Last year I reviewed a delightful recording from Flaugissimo Duo, who I first came across when they were part of the Brighton Early Music Festival’s BREMF Live! Scheme. Now, one half of the duo, guitarist Johan Löfving has recorded Fandango!, a collection of music for solo guitar from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the six-stringed guitar flourished in the salons and concert halls of Paris and Vienna. So the works on offer here vary from the Viennese classicism of Mauro Guiliani’s (1781-1829) Sonata Brillante, with its playful Beethoven- or Hummel-esque pianistic style, and lyrical melodies, to the more explicitly Spanish influenced Fandango Variado by Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849), with its swirling dance rhythms and strumming flourishes. Interestingly, the guitar’s lack of ability to sustain notes creates interesting pregnant pauses in the slow movement of the Giuliani, but Löfving’s gentle vibrato manages to still make the melodies sing here. French composer, Napoléon Coste’s (1805-1883) Soirées d’Auteuil is unashamedly romantic, full of operatic melodies, virtuosic runs and cascading arpeggios, and Löfving has great fun here. A sense of decorum is restored in the brief Étude from the great composer and teacher, Fernando Sor (1778-1839). Löfving’s touch here is delicate and expressive, bringing out the duetting melodic lines with great sensitivity. Giulio Regondi (1822-1872) spent most of his adult life in the UK, and his relatively recently discovered Introduction et Caprice, following its chorale-like opening, is full of dancing virtuosity, another chance for Löfving to demonstrate the fluidity of his playing. To close the disc, he is joined by the Consone Quartet, current BBC New Generation Artists, for a performance of Luigi Boccherini’s (1743-1804) Quintet No. 4. This opens with a warm Pastorale, full of birdlike violin twiddles and musette-droning lower strings. The sound here is somewhat muted, and the rippling guitar part is understated, with only a brief moment of emphasis towards the movement’s conclusion. The strings sound more insistent in the second movement, but again, perhaps with an aim to achieve the right balance with the quieter guitar, the overall sound is subdued, although energy picks up with rustic dancing and a joyful, trilling close to the movement. The final movement, after a dramatic introduction and guitar solo, launches into a spirited and lively Fandango, and here the performance takes flight, with playful, almost laughing figuration from the first violin, and cheeky sliding gestures from all the string players. To add to the joyful sense of occasion, Nanako Aramaki joins in with castanets, and the energy rises to a spirited conclusion with lots of string tremolo and guitar strumming. A fun end to a very enjoyable disc, full of refreshing and sprightly-performed repertoire. The Ivory Duo Piano Ensemble (pianists Natalie Tsaldarakis and Panayotis Archontides) and composers Hugh Shrapnel (b.1947) and John Lewis (b.1947) were completely unknown to me, so their new disc, Elements of London, combining movements from two collections by the composers, was a total voyage of discovery. Lewis’ pieces (Elements) are all inspired and named after chemical elements, whilst Shrapnel’s (London) are all associated with people, places and even politics of South London – hence the combined title of the disc – and they are mixed together to form an overall programme. Despite their differing inspirations, the pieces fit together remarkably well, with influences of minimalism, jazz and blues cropping up throughout. Lewis makes use of insistent rhythmic repeated chords in Niobium, and minimalist influence is most evident in Mercury and Phosphorus. Yet there are Latin-infused rhythms in Chlorine, and hints of Shostakovich in the gently romping Cerium. Shrapnel’s pieces are more overtly expressive, such as the atmospheric Ladywell Station (surely quoting Misty) with its background train whistles, and the plaintive, lamenting In Memoriam Jane Clouson. Dad’s Army even makes an appearance in Hunt Hunt, a defiant political piece dedicated to the Save the Lewisham Hospital Campaign. The pieces have been sensibly curated here, with energy and drive contrasting with more lyrical and atmospheric movements. Few pieces are longer than five minutes, yet they are surprisingly effective in capturing a mood or energy. Tsaldarakis and Archontides have clearly developed a strong affinity for this music, and a close relationship with the two composers, and their performances are strong throughout, contrasting well the thicker chordal textures with bright melodies (often in bell-like octaves), and enjoying the jazz-infused melodies. A very enjoyable discovery.